Two congressmen are urging the Federal Communications Commission to act quickly to curb “exorbitant” costs when prison inmates telephone relatives and friends.
“Research shows that regular contact between prisoners and family members during incarceration reduces recidivism,” says a Sept. 12 letter to the FCC from Congressmen Henry A. Waxman and Bobby L. Rush.
“Experts across the political spectrum have recommended minimizing the cost of prison phone calls as a way to support strong family relationships with inmates,” stated the letter to FCC Chairman Julious Genachowski.
Families pay higher rates for calls from prisoners and, on average, a one-hour phone call from an inmate costs as much as a month of unlimited home phone service. The high rates are discouraging and when prisoners and families lose contact, society pays the price, according to the letter.
Experts claim while state prisoners’ recidivism rate is more than 67 percent and cost exceed $58 billion annually, the greater focus should be on providing incarcerated men and women programs that will help them better re-integrate into the community after release. Reducing phone rates to encourage closer contact with family members who are incarcerated would be a positive step toward reaching this goal, the letter states.
A group of affected individual sought relief from the FCC in a request known as the Wright Petition. The petition has been before the FCC since 2003. It proposes “rates that would ensure reasonable and affordable phone services for inmates and their families without short-changing states, prisons, and telephone service providers,” according to the letter.
Early in September of this year, a report released by the Prison Policy Initiative concluded high prison phone rates harm society both economically and socially and recommends that the FCC approve the Write Petition and cap prison phone rates.
A reduction in prison phone rates would also improve prison safety and security by providing less incentive for incarcerated people to acquire contraband cell phones, the report concludes.